Epiphany Postponed in Reberty: Where is The Hoff?

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The stars are brighter when you are closer to them. Every night Orion watches my careful steps to bed, his rhinestone-studded belt blinking above the La Masse summit. But he is always out shone by the piste bashers; headlights like diamonds. These huge machines appear as stars for hunkered, set into the mountains, combing the hard packed snow in the darkness.

And it would be the light from these mechanical shepherds, that would guide The Messiah home. If he were coming, that is.

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Messiahs are unreliable. They are permitted this discourtesy because by our definition they are Divine; there must, therefore, be a reason of significance for their lateness (I wish the same could be said for mine).

So, I cradle the hope that The Hoff is late. And as my anticipation grows I imagine him bourn on the top of a piste basher (for this is most certainly how he will arrive) his singing face illuminated from beneath (never the most flattering lighting, I grant you) by the machine’s huge strobe-like headlamps…

Which brings me to the what might be the most interesting part of the promised arrival of The Hoff; the excitement and anticipation it sparks in others. Because while The Hoff’s star has burnt out somewhat since the days of Knight Rider and Baywatch, mention his name to anyone, any age, and there is no doubt as to who he is and a dusting of either excitement or slight hilarity descends.

Personally, I have kept a close eye on the Powder and Shine chalet next door. For several days now it has been conspicuously empty, as if preparations are being made. One guest speculated that perhaps the chalet was being sprinkled with sand and hung with red buoys in honour and respect of the arrival.

Another wondered, how his arrival would come about. Helichopper, surely. Lowered on a rope to the piste all the while singing about getting in his car (a popular song of his, according to the same guest). I wonder now if he might do this clad in leather and red polo neck pulled up as far as it will go to stave off the cold.

If this happens then skiers and snowboarders will halt in respect. Snow will spray simultaneously before arms are raised to sway and lighters are struck to salute the rock ballad and its perpetrator.

But how to meet him? Shyness, awe, a heightened sense of the ridiculous cannot defeat a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and touch a deity. Licking will only be permitted if he is wearing a onsie (see YouTube ‘onesie licking’ clips, a barely recognised Three Valleys pass time).

‘Disturb him in the outdoor
hot tub. You can see it from the balcony,’ one guest pointed eagerly through the break in the soffit to the next-door balcony. I wondered briefly how she thought I would disturb him, before she went on; ‘you might be able to take a photograph of his arm…’

‘Take him out,’ another said. I choked back an ‘easier said than done,’ and instead politely pointed out that I would have to meet him first and the chances of him saying yes were small to not at all. ‘No, on the slopes; floor him,’ she said, her usually angelic face suddenly devious.

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Another guest giggled: ‘Imagine, he’s parallel turning, it’s neat, tidy, competent but not out of this world. He’s wearing a yellow onesie, it catches the sun when he turns. Perhaps the sheen of the suit blinded you because you hurtle into him, blindsiding him, having taken some air from the lumpy off-piste, arms waving, feet clueless about how to – and oooops, you caught an edge, this is going to be bad – straight across the yellow skier, on your back and he’s down too! The Hoff is down!’

A great plan, but the outcome is unpredictable: a polite apology, feigned dawning recognition, an embarrassed request for a photograph before sliding away with the prize and the seeds of a blog entry in my tangled mind; or, The Hoff takes exception. He is getting on and the crash has exacerbated an old crime fighting or life saving injury. He is unhappy; a strong believer in technique before speed. He is hurting, his fur lined hood is ripped, he has no patience with those who cannot control themselves on the slope, its just like being on the beach again, so many careless people waiting to be saved, asking for it, well he’ll show them, by god he will: he breaks my face.

Even that situation would not be lost, surely the Daily Mail would buy Hoff Breaks My Face article?

But none of this matters if The Hoff doesn’t come. Some religions are simply prepared to worship and wait. This one is more aggressive; a dance, a drug or a sacrifice are in order…

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A Case For Romance?

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It is a truth widely known that working a ski season is not synonymous with romance. The job, if you can call it that, is more commonly recognised by excessive alcohol consumption and casual sex. In the context of a culture of binge drinking and throwaway relationships, it’s almost an ideal; a load of young people are contained in a small place, with minimal ties and responsibilities, taking part in adrenalin charged, ego driven sports (opinion only – mine) by day and sinking chalet wine, cheap beer and Yeager Bombs by night (fact, to varying degrees). A ski resort, in fact, may not be much different to any other small town in the UK, only there are no close relatives and old school mates to bump into.

It began at the beginning, in training, where I was blissfully unaware of the multiple couplings breaching the midnight curfew. And I asked to come here, to Reberty, the one-pub-town made almost entirely of wood, with the intention of side stepping the drama and the Yeager. But even in Reberty, as Dr Grant so memorably puts it in Jurassic Park, ‘Life [has] found a way.’

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This ‘way’ is mainly facilitated by the hot tubs; alpine breeding units, with optimum conditions of water and heat where life thrives and evolution goes unchecked by the company rule that hot tub use is strictly off limits to staff.

In the first week, I heard that one of our hot tubs hosted three couples in one night. Remarkable (I thought). But perhaps the most remarkable thing is that by the time the sun rises over Pointe De La Masse (pinnacle of the eastern facing slope), all that remains is a story. One to tell to colleagues on the lift or to write down for those waiting at home, telling what happened last night.

I’m sure its not just the staff, the guests use the tubs in the same way, only I don’t hear the tales. Instead, I am left with scant physical evidence; a Durex wrapper clogging up my vacuum nozzle, making it sing like a Bee Gee, and the floating Twix, bobbing, mocking, on the rippled water, masquerading convincingly as a turd.

The guest – a strange beast in more ways than one – merits further mention. When I was researching life as a seasonaire I found well-meaning advice on the ‘bedding’ of these beasts. The ‘discipline’ is that it should be a last-night-only affair (pardon the pun).

Sadly, colleagues fell foul of this in the first week. They succumbed to the hot tub on the first or second night and after that were in the grip of the holiday romance – consumed with knowledge and need – only for it to roll away, six days later, on the transfer bus, down the mountain. For some, a sad story.

And then there’s the fantasy; the best story because nobody knows how it ends. A most beautiful creature came to stay in our chalet; mine and The Chef’s (I have capitalised him now, owing to the degree of print he commands). She was everything The Chef dreamed of and yet he knew nothing about her. She was indeed pretty and delicate – she was neither skier nor snowboarder. Instead, she lounged, painted her nails, purchased pink moon boots and read the following; The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, The Case Against Christ and the Pocket Atheist.

I found the books she left lying around fascinating and paused, vacuum in hand, one day to discuss the question of Christianity. The Chef found her intoxicating (in spite of her reading matter, I think) and he began to woo; he brought her up a deck chair on which to lounge, he placed it on the balcony facing the sun, he opened beer and wine for her and gave her a piece of cheese cake, one evening, that was the size of a tall man’s foot. She then ate it all because she was truly angelic. All he did not do was try to relate to her about the time he read the Da Vinci Code – about which I was at once sad and relieved.

And she left as she came – bar those new pink moon boots – beautiful and precarious, unable to tow her oversized luggage the short distance to the bus stop.

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And when she had gone he looked her up on Facebook (as any over eager pursuer would) and was gratified with a response. Not a strong case for romance, I grant you, but less than bleak and soulless, which is a start.

A Euro in the Hand: what Grandma did

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Transfer Day #2 has come and gone and I can write about it now that it and I have the distance of days.

Transfer day is known well in resorts as the dreaded of all weekdays, not least for the challenge of turning the whole chalet around within hours. But there are other more complex issues. At 6:45 in the morning, the guests you have taken care of for seven days are leaving and for some, this is truly a sad time. Mournful even. For others it may be a time to resist hoofing the departing guests’ over-sized baggage down the hill to the bus stop (if not the guests themselves) in an effort to see the back of them. Either way it is fraught with emotion of some kind.

Whatever the emotion and no matter how strong, it doesn’t linger, new guests will be with you in five hours and round you go again. In the moonlit morning these fabled newcomers are shrouded in mystery and their coming is richly anticipated. On command, I can hear my chef saying, with a kind of dark superstition, ‘oh, I hope we get good guests this week.’ All he does not do is rub his hands together with Dickensian greed. Because good guests leave good tips.

Which brings me to a significant source of tension; tips. Either between chalets or within them, tips are a big deal because the wages are small. And, while I have covered tips already, in life we are always learning and travelling and this week my journey continued.

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And finally we come to What Grandma Did.

Before I lay all the blame at Grandma’s moon-booted feet, I must confess to not doing my job properly. As Chalet Host I am responsible for cleaning the guest’s rooms everyday. On the last day I am instructed to place a tip envelope – this asks the guest to consider whether they have received a service which has exceeded their expectations – in each room. Despite having entered and read the reminder in my phone, I forgot to do this (not an exceptional part of the service, I grant you). However, given that our guests, including Grandma, seemed to have had a lovely holiday, this did not concern me.

So, come bleary-eyed o’clock on the Sunday morning, as guests milled and we watched these movement more closely than usual, Grandma sidled up to the chef and placed notes, wrapped in a 50 euro note, into his hand. She moved on quickly to me, passing me notes wrapped in a 20 euro note.

Now, here is not the place to get into what each of us did or did not do for Grandma. What is important is that it is company policy to split tips evenly between those members of staff who work in the chalet irrespective of a particular guest’s point of view.

So we lugged and hoofed the luggage to the bus stop and waved and hugged the guests and the men helped the Gallic driver, who still managed to smile despite the Marlborough clamped between his teeth, as he loaded the bus.

Back at the chalet there was a distinct lack of communication from the chef on some subject matters. At once, he was quite happy to discuss the quantity of kilos he considered he had lost since beginning the season (only to be challenged by our manager, in mock apology, with an equivalent sum, that bring the quantity he estimated to lose each morning!) he was silent on the quantity of euros with which Grandma had greased his palm. While the chalet is typically tropical inside, the temperature dropped below zero.

Most of the time we communicate in words and phrases that are pre-programmed; we think little about them and they come from somewhere other than our true nature. It is widely suggested that words account for no more than 7% of communication. And then occasionally we do something which offers a window onto who we are and what we truly value.

It turns out that my colleague, the chef, quite simply values the sum total of 15 euros ahead of his word, established company policy and his working relationship. Convinced (correctly) he had more money in his hand than I, he did not want to risk it bring reduced.

What The Buddha Says

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It is better to travel well than arrive.

Today I did not travel well. I caught an edge at speed and flew head over heels across the packed piste, landing on my helmet. Later, I helicoptered through deep snow before finally becoming planted face down (aka a face plant*) and I lost count of how many times my ass bit the hard-packed snow. From a beautiful blue sky day, I remember these things most vividly, not the crepe, snow streaked mountains, the magical walls they make around your little world, the sun, the speed, the friends…

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I know that I did not travel well as much due to my negative insides as my ability to keep my one plank going in the right direction, at the right speed on the outside.

What we think we become.

A spiritual ‘I told you so.’

When the idea for this trip was new I was immediately curious about the opposition of the two things I wanted to do: work in the Alps for the ski season, snowboarding, almost inevitably drinking, before visiting Nepal to work in a Buddhist monastery. I explained this to those who asked in terms of yin and yang, the hedonistic and the spiritual, one balancing the other.

But now it has begun, it is not that simple. It has been suggested that people do sports like skiing, snowboarding, parachuting (the list is endless) to seize the same sense of freedom that might be experienced through enlightenment; a sort of oneness.

During these activities you are thrust into the present moment by the immediacy of velocity and the need for control. You must be there. In one moment the piste curves and shines ahead, then the next minute you are on it, riding it. No past or future exist inside you; one moment follows the next. You inhabit yourself and the slope completely. This is the reason I snowboard, but these moments are rare. More often I brake hard on tired legs as my mind tells me I cannot deal with the challenges on the piste, the lumps, gradient, ice, cannot keep up; I break inside and almost inevitably fall. Then I get up, tired, defeated and a little more jaded. The quality of my snowboarding is a reflection of my state of mind.

And, contrary to the Buddha’s advice about anger and resentment (just let go – paraphrased) I am a terrible hater on the slopes. Everybody else is there to foil me. The skier who overtakes and brakes in my path, the learner skier who needs the whole piste to turn, the learner boarder, arms flailing, who could simply topple like a felled tree, the joker who stops in the middle of the piste and then makes their way across it without looking, the ESF dragon (that chain of learners, snaking across the slope). Those skiers with no concept of personal space or those who simply get off on abusing it (you know who you are). My fear makes me an irredeemable hater. And without the luxury of a direct quote, the Buddha would say ‘that sucks.’

So, it seems I can’t experience the freedom on my snowboard until I can experience the freedom in my head.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment. Roughly translated as ‘no mental hi-fiving for the last turn or landing a jump and no anxiety about the steep icy bit 100 metres away.’ Like Kenny Rogers sings, ‘don’t count your money when your sitting at the table…’

It is better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles. Which for me means ‘quit worrying how everybody else on the slopes is doing.’

The secret of existence is to have no fear. Do not fear what will become of you. This one is easier said than done in the face of, er…The Fear. once gripped by it then I have already imagined myself leaving an icy cat track in a windmill of colourful arms, descending hundreds of feet to ultimate doom (long falling with indeterminate crashing and breaking apart at the bottom) or suffocating face down in the pow pow*. Having imagined such a scenario I am understandably worried about what will happen to me. So clearly, I have not mastered the fear thing.

Curiously, these nuggets of wisdom are reminded to me by the Buddha App. A tacky, throw away medium for a spiritual leader? perhaps. It might seem like a joke. It can be, it is easier to say things like

The tongue, like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.

with a hint of the ridiculous to avoid alienating friends and colleagues. However, if you don’t care or if alienation is your thing, the Buddha can be quite direct when he wants to be; ‘Buddha says “shut the hell up,” seems to work a treat…

Here’s me raising a vin chaud to that positive state of mind…

*Reference the legendary snowboarding dictionary

**well not strictly, there is usually a definitive list in your travel insurance wording – what they won’t insure without some extra cash, if at all.

Hoffwatch

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I’ve mentioned already that Reberty is a small place – one pub and one pizzeria small. The downside to this is there is no escape, you rattle around a small pen on the side of the mountain. The upside is that it is so small that even if you are out of the loop you are still likely to find yourself in the loop, that is given that a loop can only be so small and Reberty 2000 is smaller.

So that is how come we came to find out, on Christmas Eve, of the coming of the messiah, to Reberty. Not Jesus – incidentally one of the most mispronounced names in the world, discovered courtesy of the chalet quiz – but David – don’t hassle the hoff – Hasselhoff.

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Christmas Eve in Reberty was looking pretty underwhelming. Many of the chalet staff sat bored-shepherd-esque in Le Ferme nursing alcoholic drinks while the lights from the piste-bashers shone from the mountains. It was hard to hear over the raucous shouts of the seasonnaires from other companies, cheering a round of tequila or j├Ąger bombs. One by one we dropped out, our manager first after doubt was cast on his last season’s conduct (totally spuriously, as it turns out, which is a relief because now I can eradicate all thoughts of him doing the helicopter), then another, then another. Soon, we were pretty much a handful, still sipping, talking rubbish, waiting for midnight.

At midnight along came 18 year old Ski Host, Thomas (aka The Prophet) and Girl whose name I didn’t catch, but whose butt was commented on favourably and who it was agreed (not by me) wore Thomas’s hat well, albeit not in the ‘flaccid’ (I am not joking, a direct quote from The Prophet) way that he wore it. I had had two red wines by this point and was indifferently swimming through its fuzz while muttering acknowledgement of the fact that Thomas’s family had a chalet in another valley where he had stayed since he was small and in the UK he was eating 3400 calories a day. ‘Why?’ I asked, puzzled as much by the fact that he was counting, as much as by the large number. ‘All you need to know is the number,’ he replied, immediately confirming my instinctual disinclination to speak to him. He rumbled on talking, no gushing, about things he liked to talk about and no doubt had done do already that evening; food, particularly tartiflette, him eating food, him skiing, and rival chalets and one in particular by whom he seemed to feel snubbed. ‘Oh, they’re always going on about which celebrities are staying with them. Oh, this week,’ and at this point he had begun to effect an even more affected accent than his own (a stretch), ‘they had Greg [some name that left me blank but to which I nodded], then next week they have…[another blank] and David Hasselhoff.’

I was immediately shaken in my semi-soaked state. By the time I had swum to the top I was all

Knight Rider. A shadowy flight into a dangerous world of a man who does not exist…

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I was lost somewhere between the red polo neck, buoy and bomber jacket with multiple theme tunes waving through me. My childhood hero was coming.

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The messiah.

Although having said that, The Hoff appears to have been more lost than messianic in recent years, the depths of which were that video of him slurring and vomiting in a drunken mess on the bathroom floor. It almost goes without saying that he will fit in perfectly here. But, seriously, beneath the theme tune and the 80’s sheen (because everything from the 80s glitters) there was a lingering doubt. He’s 60, dating a girl in her 20s, this coming or arrival may more likely be the final awakening of my adulthood, the grit of reality, the shattering of dreams, something not far from finding out that Santa does not indeed exist.

Bugger.

But never mind. Hoffwatch commences Saturday 29th December, bring on that illusion-shattering-in-my-face-ugliness…

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Or indeed the devil himself…shit that is scary!!

A Nasty Sic Christmas From The Christmas Moose

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The recipe for Christmas Day on the slopes: five hours sleep, non-optional Christmas cold, G & T before 08:00 and a series of toilets to clean. All the before pulling on boarding clothes, stretching reindeer head over my helmet and standing outside the pub, on the edge of the piste in waning visibility and with equally trailing enthusiasm.

I had trudged through the morning to be there, my lethargy and the fact that I needed to grab for the ‘elephant roll’ every two minutes to catch my howling sneezes or the torrent coming from my nose, preventing any efficiency or initiative. In case you were wondering – as I was – elephant roll is NOT so called because it is the equivalent size to that which an elephant might use to wipe its bottom. Disappointing. I suggested the name might have been given for this very reason on my first week in Reberty, with a smile tickling my lips. I was told no, it was to do with the way it is dispensed if put in a cage on the wall. Also disappointing.

I was furthermore disappointed that I had forgotten to pack even a little bit for the slopes.

As it was I didn’t need it. The thigh burning sensation and the thoughts of being completely unable to do this stupid planky, slidey sport took over. The mind is an amazing thing; ask the Buddha. Then any snot-like moisture was completely obliterated from around my face after a spectacular sliding face plant – brought about by being too close to an edge that I then pictured myself being launched over – which must have looked more like Rudolf coming in for a poor landing because my trusty helmet cover didn’t shift as my face hit the ground and spray showered upwards.

When we got to the bottom, I was glad. I could straighten my legs, which after two weeks must be entirely powered by cake and boxed vin rouge (the folly of a chalet girl), and flop onto the lift.

But the Buddha (app) says ‘your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself too it’, so when we got to the top I did not slide off home, defeated. Instead, on to Les Menuires to give my face, once again, to the slope and my heart to a Baileys coffee.

‘Mooooooooo!’ – is that the noise a moose makes? – ‘Have a nasty sic* Christmas!’

* Giving myself to my world involves embracing its language. Nasty sic is the best. Sic without the nastiness is simply moderately good. See the snowboarding dictionary where all is explained.

Let Me Give You A Tip…

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It is a well-known fact that ski season jobs are poorly paid. This runs from chalet host up to resort manager. It is also well-known that the staff at the bottom of the food chain (me, for example) hope to be able to make enough tips to be able to survive on (in this context, read ‘survival’ as ability to purchase cases of Kronenberg bottled beer and the occasional tube of toothpaste). So, some staff might work harder to solicit these tips, they might go that extra mile for the guests to improve the chances of being recognised (financially, that is, because as one seasoned employee puts it ‘compliments do not buy beer’).

The recognition happens on transfer day.

Transfer day is a curious experience. One batch of humans are shipped out of resort to be replaced by another batch. To do this staff rise at 5:00 and over 12 hours turn over the chalet and settle in the new humans. What surprised me about transfer day was the hugging. Guests hugging staff, virtual strangers embracing the people who have looked after them for seven days. I was hugged. And afterwards, once all the guests had been loaded and moved off, I stood at the bus stop thinking, ‘how strange, how nice’ while my colleagues disappeared.

When I returned to my chalets there was no sign of either chef, both repeat seasonnaires. Then after five minutes they both reappeared, having (so it turned out) checked every room for tips. One chef proudly announced 150 euro, while the other had zero.

I took care of both chalets, had dined with the guests in each chalet and I had formed opinions of them too. It was interesting how those changed when the financial judgement had been passed. It leaves a complex taste in your mouth reflecting on your efforts over the previous week.

The point is though, it is not an exact science. Your effort does not necessarily match the eventual reward, which one of the other chefs discovered to his disappointment. All week he devoted himself to this family, not only cooking for them but allowing them wine long after the food had been cleared away, boarding with them, drinking with them, advising them, changing the menu for them. Nothing was too much trouble. Their wish was his command, they were always right. It could have been sickening but he did it with style (mostly, although I almost choked on my coffee when they left the chalet, offering to turn their Christmas CD off on the way out the door only to hear his response: ‘no don’t worry, I actually find it rather soothing.’ He doesn’t). On the last night they were singing his praises, they would come back to this resort again and again, if only they knew he’d be there to serve them. So, I could see why he’d be confident of a large reward, after all, that is what a tip recognises, personal service. Only in the end, it didn’t happen. From 11 people he received 33 euros.

He felt dirty, used, taken advantage of, a slightly naive girl, the victim of a one night stand. By the time the bus had pulled away from the snow crusted lay-by his treasured guests, his dining buddies, had become scum and worse.

It does beg the question: how do you know? And how far would you go?